LIVE – Updated at 13:03
Prime minister says he thought party was a ‘work event’ but concedes he should have stopped the gathering on 20 May 2020.
‘How stupid does PM think public are?’ – Bryant says PM’s party explanation implausible
Chris Bryant (Lab) says the PM is arguing he did not realise he was at a social event.
How stupid does the prime minister think the British people are?
So, the prime minister didn’t spot that he was at a social event. That’s the excuse isn’t it? Come off it.
I mean how stupid does the prime minister think the British people are.
The worst of it is he’s already managed to completely destroy Allegra Stratton’s career, he’s tarnished the reputation of Lord Geidt, and now he’s making fools of every single MP who cheered him earlier, every single one who goes out on the radio and television to defend this shower of shenanigans.
Would it not be absolutely despicable if, in the search for a scapegoat, some junior member of staff ends up losing their job, but he kept his?
Johnson says he does not agree. He says Bryant should await the Gray report.
Starmer says Matt Hancock resigned when he broke the rules, and Allegra Stratton resigned for laughing about rule-breaking. Why does the PM think the rules don’t apply to him.
Why does the prime minister still think that the rules don’t apply to him?
When the prime minister’s former health secretary broke the rules, he resigned and the prime minister said he was right to do so.
When the prime minister’s spokesperson laughed about the rules being broken, she resigned and the prime minister accepted that resignation.
Why does the prime minister still think that the rules don’t apply to him?
Johnson says that is not what he said.
That’s not what I’ve said and I understand the point that he makes. As I’ve said, I regret the way things happened on the evening in question and I apologise, but if I may say to him, I do think it would be better if he waited until the full conclusion of the inquiry, until the full facts are brought before this house and he will have an opportunity to put his points again.
Starmer says the PM originally said he had been assured there were no parties. Then the video landed, and he pretended he was sickened by the parties. Now it turns out he was at the parties. Starmer says the public think he is “lying through his teeth”.
Everyone can see what happened. It started with reports of boozy parties in Downing Street during lockdown. The prime minister pretended that he had been assured there were no parties. How that fits with his defence now I do not know.
Then the video landed, blowing the prime minister’s first defence out of the water, so then he pretended … he was sickened and furious about the parties, now it turns out he was at the parties all along. Can’t the prime minister see why the British public think he’s lying through his teeth?
Tory MPs object, on the grounds that MPs should not accuse each other of lying. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, defends Starmer, saying he is talking about what the public think.
Johnson says he does not accept that. He says a lawyer should wait for the facts.
It’s up to [Starmer] to choose how he conducts himself in this place … what he said is wrong in several key respects, but that does not detract from the basic point that I want to make today, which is that I accept that we should have done things differently on that evening.
As I said to the house, I believe that the events in question were within the guidance and were within the rules, and that was certainly the assumption on which I operated … He should wait before he jumps to conclusions, a lawyer should respect the inquiry. I hope that he will wait until the facts are established and brought to this house.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, asks why Allegra Stratton, a woman, is the only person to have resigned over No 10 parties, while Johnson, who attended them, is still in post. He says Johnson should resign.
Johnson says he does not agree, and he urges Davey to wait for the Gray report.
Toby Perkins (Lab) says no PM has diminished the office like Johnson. He has been sacked from two previous jobs for lying. Why should the office of PM be held to a lower standard.
Johnson says he does not agree.
Starmer says Johnson has misled parliament, which is in breach of the rules. Will his party kick him out or will the public kick him out?
We’ve got the prime minister attending Downing Street parties – a clear breach of the rules. We’ve got the prime minister putting forward a series of ridiculous denials which he knows are untrue – a clear breach of the ministerial code. That code says ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation.
The party’s over, prime minister. The only question is will the British public kick him out, will his party kick him out or will he do the decent thing and resign?
Johnson says Starmer is paid to try to get him out of office. He says Starmer should wait for the Gray report. He apologises for the mistakes made.
I know it is his objective and he is paid to try to remove me from office and I appreciate that and I accept that.
But may I humbly suggest to him that he should wait until the inquiry has concluded, he should study it for himself and I will certainly respond as appropriate – and I hope that he does – but in the meantime, yes, I certainly wish that things had happened differently on the evening of 20 May and I apologise for all the misjudgments that have been made for which I take full responsibility.
Some of the earlier posts, covering the Johnson/Starmer exchanges, have now been beefed up with direct quotes, from PA Media. You may need to refresh the page to get them to appear.
This is from the BBC’s Nick Robinson on Johnson’s apology.
Starmer says he spoke last night to a woman, Hannah, whose father died last May. She met Johnson last year, and Johnson told her that he had done everything possible to protect his dad. Hannah now knows her father’s death certificate was signed on the day of the party. Does the PM understand how she feels?
Johnson says he understands how she feels. He wants to apologise. But the government has been doing what it can to protect people. It has the most tested population in Europe. And it has had the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, and one of the fastest in the world.
Whatever mistakes have been made on my watch, for which I apologise, that is the work that has been going on in Downing Street.
Johnson’s statement apologising for No 10 party, which he claims he thought was work event
This is what Johnson said in his opening statement.
I want to apologise. I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months.
I know the anguish they have been through – unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love.
I know the rage they feel with me and with the government I lead when they think in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.
And though I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry, I have learned enough to know there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility.
No 10 is a big department with a garden as an extension of the office which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus.
When I went into that garden just after six on 20 May 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event.
With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them.
I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there are millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who have suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all inside or outside, and to them and to this house I offer my heartfelt apologies.
All I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others so that the full facts can be established.
Karl Turner (Lab) says Johnson has only apologised because he was caught. He says Johnson still wants to maintain one rule for him, and another for the rest of us. He must resign.
Johnson refers Turner to the answer given earlier.
Johnson says he thought it was a work event.
I appreciate the point that [Starmer is] making about the event that I attended. I want to repeat that I thought it was a work event and I regret very much that we did not do things differently that evening.
I take responsibility and I apologise. But as for his political point, I don’t think that he should pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry. He will have a further opportunity, I hope, to question me as soon as possible.
PM says he did attend No 10 party, but thought it was work event – and apologises
Boris Johnson starts with a tribute to Jack Dromey, the Labour MP who died this week.
He goes on to say he wants to apologise. Many people have made extraordinary sacrifices. He know the rage they feel with him and with the government he leads when they think the rules are not being followed.
Although he cannot anticipate the results of the Sue Gray inquiry, he knows there are things they did not get right.
He says Downing Street is a big complex. When he went into the garden on 20 May, he thought it was a work event. He says he left after 25 minutes. But now he knows he should have ended the event.
He says he offers his heartfelt apologies.
Starmer says PM’s claim he did not realise he was at party is ‘offensive to public’
Keir Starmer says:
There we have it. After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road. His defence … that he didn’t realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public.
He’s finally been forced to admit what everyone knew, that when the whole country was locked down he was hosting boozing parties in Downing Street. Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?
Stephen Farry (Alliance) says his constituents feel betrayed by the PM. Standards in public life have declined. Will he resign?
Johnson says, on Farry’s “political point”, Farry should wait for the Gray report.
Starmer asks if the PM is so contemptuous of the public he thinks he can ride this out.
Johnson confirms he heard Jim Shannon in the Commons yesterday (breaking down when he talked about the death of his mother-in-law). He says he bitterly regrets what happened. He has apologised. But Starmer must wait for the Gray report.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, quotes a former soldier saying he follows the rules but the PM doesn’t. Will the PM resign?
Johnson says Blackford should wait until the inquiry is concluded.
Blackford says Johnson has no shame. He was drinking and laughing in his garden while the public were suffering.
If the prime minister has no sense of shame, the Tory backbenchers must act to remove him.
Johnson thanks Blackford for his advice. He says he feel contrition. But he stresses the success of the vaccination programme.
Simon Hart, the Welsh secretary, has become the first cabinet minister to publicly express concerns about the latest partygate revelations. As WalesOnline reports, Hart said this morning:
We’re in the middle of an investigation, that was set up by the PM to get to the bottom and to get to the truth about what was reasonable at the time and what wasn’t. It’s frustrating to have to rely on the investigation and we must be careful to not pre-judge that or what the PM will say in a few minutes’ time.
The one thing I’m not going to do is make light of something that is unquestionably something of a significant public concern.
I don’t live on a different planet. The frustration and the hurt and indignation and the incredulity that emerging stories like this produce. I’ve got, like everyone, family and friends asking me these questions. We have to get to the bottom of this.
Judgment will need to be made about what happens next.
PMQs is starting soon.
Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question.
There is some excellent detail about the No 10 party on 20 May 2020 in the Times’s backgrounder. In their report (paywall), Steven Swinford and Henry Zeffman say that Martin Reynolds, who sent out the email invitation to around 100 staff as the PM’s principal private secretary, became “panicky” in advance of the event, because staff were concerned it was against the rules, but decided cancelling the event would make things worse. They go on:
That afternoon, staff began preparations. A row of tables was set up on one side of the garden to act as a bar. In the garden itself more tables were set up in a layout to encourage people to observe social-distancing rules.
Officials and advisers began arriving shortly after 6pm. While many stayed away, about 40 came. Many took up Reynolds’ suggestion in his email that they should “BYOB” — bring your own booze — taking a trip to the Tesco Express next to Westminster station. The drinks table was well stocked with gin, rosé, red wine and white wine, and guests began to arrive and mingle.
Two sources said that the prime minister attended, with one saying he was “wandering round gladhanding people”. His fiancée Carrie Symonds, whom he married last year, also attended and was said to have been drinking with Henry Newman, then an adviser to Michael Gove and now a senior figure in No 10.
The Times has been told that one senior official at the event joked about the risk of surveillance by drones, which was viewed as a tacit admission that the rules were being breached.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is a favourite to replace Boris Johnson if he does have to resign. Conveniently, a diary engagement in Devon means that Sunak will be nowhere near the Commons at 12pm, and won’t have to sit on the frontbench alongside the PM offering his support.
Turning away from partygate for a moment, the Good Law Project, a campaigning group which has been using the law to challenge the government on policy matters, says it has won an important victory in the high court today on PPE procurement. It says the high court has accepted its case that the governnment’s use of a fast-track VIP lane, that allowed suppliers recommended by ministers to get priority consideration when emergency PPE contracts were being handed out in earlier stages of the pandemic, was unlawful.
Welcoming the decision, Jo Maugham, head of the Good Law Project, said: “Never again should any government treat a public health crisis as an opportunity to enrich its associates and donors at public expense.”
According to the Liberal Democrats, the police in England issued 118,419 fines for breaking lockdown rules between 27 March 2020 and 17 October last year. That included 800 fines in the week when the No 10 party was held on 20 May 2020.
In London 17,745 fines were issued between March 2020 and October last year, including 113 for holding illegal gatherings of more than 30 people.
The party has taken the figures from a report (pdf) from the National Police Chiefs’ Council. Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, said:
Thousands of Londoners have been fined for flouting lockdown rules during the pandemic. It would be double standards of the worst kind for the police to turn a blind eye when those in No 10 have done the same.
There will be two urgent questions in the Commons after PMQs. The first, at 12.30pm, will cover the government’s vaccination strategy, and at about 1.15pm there will be one on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
What will Boris Johnson say about partygate at PMQs? Last night the FT columnist Robert Shrimsley tried to guess, and his script reads like a plausible version of what we may hear in about an hour’s time.
The Independent’s John Rentoul is expecting something very similar.
In response to Shrimsley’s tweet, John McTernan, who worked for Tony Blair in Downing Street, proposes a much more humbling mea culpa – laced with patriotism, and a promise to do better. (Other politicians might be able to pull this off, but given Johnson’s record on promise-keeping, he might find it hard.)
Theo Bertram, another former Labour No 10 aide, thinks Martin Reynolds will be sacrificed.
And the i’s Paul Waugh suggests Johnson might go for a wider standards overhaul.
This is from James Forsyth, the Spectator’s political editor, who is one of the lobby journalists best informed on the thinking in the Conservative parliamentary party.
Another journalist who is very well plugged in to the thinking of Tory MPs is the Conservative Home editor Paul Goodman, a former MP himself. In what might be a rather ominous development for Johnson, Goodman devotes his main ConHome article this morning to discussing the process by which the Conservative party might go about replacing him (although he does not describe Johnson’s resignation as inevitable).
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey says Johnson should resign
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, has said Boris Johnson should resign. He told BBC Breakfast:
Boris Johnson is now incapable of leading our country through this public health crisis – I actually think he is a threat to the health of the nation, because no-one will do anything he says because he has now shown to have been deceitful, so Boris Johnson must now resign …
He said to parliament and to the country before Christmas when he was apologising that he didn’t know about the parties, and now we know he was at at least one of those parties.
So, he has clearly lied, he has broken the ministerial code, he has broken the law, he’s misled parliament – any prime minister in the past would resign for just one of those offences …
If he has a shred of decency left in him, I think he must resign today.
Tory MPs divided over whether Johnson can stay if he attended lockdown-busting No 10 party
This is what some Conservative MPs have been saying about Boris Johnson in interviews broadcast this morning.
Huw Merriman told the Today programme that he did not think Johnson inevitably had to resign if he attended the party on 20 May 2020. He said:
We don’t know what’s happened and I feel rotten speculating before we know the facts – but as far as I’m concerned we judge people in the round. That includes the action that was taken during the pandemic, the support, the vaccination programme, [and] holding the nerve on plan B. Then you then judge where people have done wrong.
But Merriman also said Johnson had to clear up what happened.
Nigel Mills took the opposite view. He said that if Johnson did attend the party, he would have to go. He told the BBC:
It is utterly untenable, we have seen people resign for far less than that. If the prime minister knowingly attended a party, I can’t see how he can survive …
If he was there he better try a hugely fulsome apology and see if the country will buy it but I’m not sure they will.
And Tobias Ellwood said it was essential for Johnson to show some contrition. He told Sky News:
I strongly urge the prime minister to act now, to apologise for No 10’s poor judgment, to show some contrition and to be committed to appropriately respond to Sue Gray’s findings when they come out. We can’t allow things to drift, that is not an option.
Asked if that would be enough for Johnson to stay in post, Ellwood replied:
It would probably be for the cabinet then to judge, and then also what he says and how he says it. But we need to get ahead of the story. This is distracting us, it is taking airtime away.
The Conservative MP Christian Wakeford says, in what is clearly a reference to the No 10 partygate stories, that he and his colleagues have been asked to “defend the indefensible”.
Boris Johnson cannot defend No 10 party by claiming it was work, says Labour
Good morning. Like many politicians, Boris Johnson normally lives by the dictum, “Never apologise, never explain”. (It’s a saying attributed to various people, but the best source for it I can find is Jacky Fisher, first sea lord in the first world war, who wrote in a letter to the Times “Never contradict, never explain, never apologise”.) But today, in relation to the reports that he attended a staff party in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020, when the country was in lockdown and outdoor gatherings were banned, Johnson is almost certainly going to have to come up with some sort of apology and some sort of explanation. Yesterday No 10 was trying to stick to the line that it could wait until Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating all the partygate allegations, produces her report. But anyone following the Westminster news from yesterday for more than about 30 seconds will have twigged that that line can no longer hold.
Here is the Guardian story summing up the situation overnight.
Johnson will be in the Commons for PMQs at 12pm. Last night there was speculation about some sort of statement beforehand, but that probably referred to a plan to begin PMQs with a comment addressing the partygate affair, to gain some credit ahead of Keir Starmer’s first question. This is exactly what Johnson did on 8 December, when he was under intense pressure because of the release of the video showing Allegra Stratton, his then spokesperson, effectively confirming a separate lockdown-busting No 10 party (on 18 December 2020), and laughing about it, at a briefing rehearsal. (The latest allegation is much worse, for reasons explained here yesterday.)
The nature of Johnson’s explanation/apology may well determine how long he remains as prime minister. Obviously some people are likely to be more forgiving than others, but what will matter most for Johnson will be the reaction of Tory MPs, who have the power to trigger a confidence vote if they conclude this afternoon that he remains too much of a liability. Ultimately the public’s reaction will be more important (because that will shape whether Tory MPs conclude he remains viable as a leader), but it might take longer to assess what the public’s considered view is.
Given that some Tory MPs have said Johnson would have to resign if he knowingly attended a social party, Johnson is likely to argue that the 20 May event last year was essentially a work function, but in a garden, with alcohol. Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has been doing interviews and she told the Today programme that this explanation would be implausible. She said:
I don’t accept that sending out invitations to bring your own booze – the weather’s lovely, come out into the garden – to 100 staff as work, to be honest. I think it’s very clear that that breaks the Covid rules.
Asked if she accepted that the No 10 garden could be seen as a workplace, Rayner replied:
Many key workers are NHS staff who were working very heavy shifts, 12-hour shifts with full PPE on – they didn’t break out into the garden with cheese and wine and bring your own booze scenarios.
They were working incredibly hard watching people’s loved ones die, holding smart phones and iPads in front of them so they could say goodbye to their loved ones – it is not acceptable to say: ‘This is a workplace garden, so we all cracked open the bubbly because it was a really nice day.’
Many people at the time understood the rules, and the rules were very clear.
Largely Johnson’s future will be determined by what he says at PMQs, but there could be other partygate-related developments today too. A few hours after PMQs on 8 December Stratton resigned. Martin Reynolds, who as Johnson’s principal private secretary sent out the invitation to the 20 May party, is widely expected to go at some point and it is quite possible that that could be today.
Apart from PMQs, there is not much on the agenda. Today the blog will be largely focused on Johnson and partygate.
I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.
If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.
Alternatively, you can email me at [email protected]
Rayner says Johnson’s position will be untenable if he has lied to MPs about parties
In interviews this morning Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, also said that Boris Johnson’s position would be untenable if it turns out he has attended lockdown-busting parties at Downing Street because that would mean that he had lied to the House of Commons (which is against the ministerial code, and generally seen as a resignation offence for ministers).
Asked if Johnson would have to resign if he did admit to attending the 20 May party, Rayner told BBC Breakfast:
Boris Johnson has to account for his actions and the ministerial code is very clear that if he has misled parliament and he has not abided by that code, then he should go.
She added that if it was proved he had “lied to the British public, lied to Parliament and he has attended parties during lockdown, then his position is untenable”.
Yesterday Labour released a dossier to journalists citing the many occasions since early December, when the partygate allegations first emerged, when Johnson has denied that rules were broken. Some of those denials were at the despatch box in the Commons, and some were in TV interviews.
But the quotes in the Commons relate to allegations that the rules were broken in Christmas 2020, and Johnson’s denials related to those events, not the 20 May one. And after initially claiming that no rules had been broken, Johnson adjusted his line, and instead started telling MPs he had been assured that no rules were broken (implying that if he was being misleading, it was someone else’s fault, because he had been misled himself).
Keir Starmer will be at PMQs today, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg reports. Starmer has been isolating since he tested positive for Covid last week. But he has tested negative two days in a row – making him a beneficiary of the government’s decision to cut the minimum isolation period from 10 days to seven days.
Source: Thanks msn.com